Fish nibbles on Pteranodon metacarpal

Figure 1. Fish teeth compared to grazed Pteranodon metacarpal

Figure 1. Fish teeth compared to grazed Pteranodon metacarpal

Ehret and Harrell 2018
bring us news from Alabama of two distinct sets of tooth marks on a Pteranodon (Fig. 2) metacarpal (Fig. 1). They report:

“The Pteranodon specimen exhibits serrated teeth marks on the surface of the bone and a second set of larger, unserrated teeth marks unlike those of any contemporary shark species. These feeding traces compare favorably with the tooth spacing and morphology of Squalicorax kaupi, and a small to moderate-sized saurodontid fish, such as Saurodon or Saurocephalus, respectively. In both instances, feeding traces appear to be scavenging events due to the lack of any healing or bone remodeling. The specimen represents a pterosaur that either fell into marine waters or was washed out from nearshore areas and then scavenged by both a chondrichthyan and osteichthyan.”

“Many fossils from late Cretaceous Alabama appear to have been nibbled by sharks, including sea turtles and dinosaurs, which are often ‘covered in predation marks,’ says Ehret.”

NatGeo publicized the find by talking to some pterosaur experts, “Pterosaurs actually had a lot of meat on their skeletons,” says Michael Habib, a pterosaur expert at the University of Southern California who was not involved with the latest find. “They were not the skinny animals often depicted in films and art. The flight muscles in particular would have made a great meal.”

Pterosaur metacarpals,
like all metacarpals, actually are sinewy and have little to no associated muscle.

Habib adds,
“Pteranodon also inhabited this coastal environment during the late Cretaceous, making a living snatching smaller fish from the shark-filled waters. Pterosaurs could float, but being less buoyant than birds, they probably didn’t sit on the surface for long. Some species, including Pteranodon, did likely plunge into the water for prey. “They could then quickly take back off from the surface. But these diving pterosaurs might have been vulnerable to sharks just after they entered the water,” he says.

M. Witton concluded,
“It’s nice to know what species were interacting in this way.”

Ehret corrected the pterosaur experts,
“It’s also possible that the animal died near the shore and was scavenged when it washed out to sea.”

Figure 3. Triebold Pteranodon in floating configuration. Center of balance marked by cross-hairs.

Figure 2 Triebold Pteranodon in floating configuration. Center of balance marked by cross-hairs.

Contra Habib’s statement
Pteranodon was at least as buoyant as a pelican. It has been widely known for over a century that pterosaur bones are thinner than bird bones and Pteranodon metacarpals, in particular, were hollow like pontoons (Fig. 2).

Ultimately
the bite marks represent curiosity, not predation, a point understood by Ehret and Harrell.

References
Ehret DJ and Harrell TL Jr. 2018. Feeding traces of a Pteranodon (Reptilia: Pterosauria) bone from the late Cretaceous (Campanian) Mooreville Chalk in Alabama, USA. Palaios 33(9):414–418.

www.natgeo.com/

Pterosaurs were likely floaters: evidence from manus only tracks

Yesterday we reviewed Hone and Henderson (2013) who conducted computational experiments with four misbegotten digital pterosaur models and reported that pterosaurs were unlikely floaters that would have struggled to keep their noses above the surface and so risked drowning, despite their air-filled skeletons.

Unfortunately
the Hone and Henderson results don’t agree with the facts as told by manus-only tracks, that can only be made by floating pterosaurs. As Hone has done in previous papers, these are all conveniently omitted. Case in point: the Summerville tracks (Lockley et al. 1996, Fig. 1).

Summerville tracks matched to potential trackmaker, Jidapterus, a basal azhdarchid.

Figure 1. Summerville tracks matched to potential trackmaker, Jidapterus, a basal azhdarchid pterosaur using a poling technique to produce manus-only tracks while floating.

Summerville (Late Jurassic) manus only tracks (Fig 1), likely made by a sister to Jidapterus, a protoazhdarchid with rather big fingers.

Is this the only explanation?
Oh, sure some have said that pterosaurs pressed their hands more deeply into the matrix and footprints were thereafter erased by geological processes. But doesn’t this strike you as trying to make excuses, on the order of Elgin, Hone and Frey’s infamous “membrane shrinkage“?

Figure 2. Manus only tracks of pterosaurs, Late Jurassic to Late Cretaceous.

Figure 2. A catalog of manus only tracks of pterosaurs, Late Jurassic to Late Cretaceous. Note the odd and large Las Hoyas track is now considered to be made by a theropod, which makes perfect sense.

The large Las Hoyas track
is impossible to fit to a pterosaur manus. No pterosaur has a longer and more robust manual digit 2 than 3. Some have these two digits subequal in length, but to scale these up to the track size creates a truly gigantic pterosaur. Vullo et al. 2009 got it right when they decided it belonged to a theropod dinosaur foot.

Figure 4. Tapejara compared to Albian tracks from South America. They are a close match in size and shape.

Figure 4. Tapejara compared to Albian tracks from  west-central Argentina (Calvo and Lockley 2001). They are a close match in size and shape. Pedal digits 2-4 are subequal and digit 1 is slightly shorter. Scale bars for tracks and pterosaur match. Footprints indicate no splay in the digits. Note the comparative sizes of the manus and pes.

The “first Gondwana pterosaur tracks” (Calvo and Lockley 2001) can all be matched to Tapejara-like (Fig. 4, 5) trackmakers. The Candeleros Member of the Rio Limay Formation (Albian–Cenomanian) at Lake Ezequiel Ramos Mexía, Neuquén Province, Argentina is contemporary with Tapejara bones on the east coast of Brazil. The palaeoenvironmental setting of the track beds was a lake shoreline, where dinosaur tracks also occur.

Figure 5. Tapejara poling while floating, producing manus-only tracks, all to scale.

Figure 5. Tapejara poling while floating, producing manus-only Albian tracks from west-central Argentina, all to scale .

Above, manus only tracks (Calvo and Lockley 2001) matched to Tapejara.

Figure 5. Price (Utah, Maastrichtian) tracks. These match up pretty well to Cycnorhamphus, except for size. Luckily we know of giant cycnorhamphids like Moganopterus, shown as a skull here to scale.

Figure 5. Price (Utah, Maastrichtian) tracks. These match up pretty well to Cycnorhamphus, except for size. Luckily we know of giant cycnorhamphids like Moganopterus, shown as a skull here to scale. Unfortunately, Moganopterus is from the Early Cretaceous of China.

Moganopterus, a cycnorhamphid, is a good model for the trackmaker of the Maastrichtian Price (Utah) racks, merely with a shorter digit 2 than Cycnorhamphus (Fig. 5). Unfortunately Moganopterus is from the Early Cretaceous of China.

If you’re interested
in finding a better match for any of these tracks, you are welcome to try. I had a catalog of pterosaur manus and pedes at reptileevolution.com and a matrix of pterosaur traits that made my search go rather quickly.

References
Calvo JO and Lockley MG 2001. The first pterosaur tracks from Gondwana. Cretaceous Research 22:585-590.
Elgin RA, Hone DWE and Frey E 2011. The extent of the pterosaur flight membrane. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56 (1), 2011: 99-111. doi: 10.4202/app.2009.0145
Hone DWE, Henderson DM 2013. The posture of floating pterosaurs: Ecological implications for inhabiting marine and freshwater habitats, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (2013 accepted manuscript), doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2013.11.022
Lockley MG, Logue TJ, Moratalla JJ, Hunt AP, Schultz RJ and Robinson JW 1995.  The fossil trackway Pteraichnus is pterosaurian, not crocodilian: implications for the global distribution of pterosaur tracks. Ichnos, 4: 7–20.
Lockley MG, Hunt AP and Lucas SG 1996. Vertebrate track assemblages from the Jurassic Summerville Formation and correlative deposits. – In: Morales M. (Ed.), The Continental Jurassic. Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin, 60: 249–254.
Lockley MG and Wright JL 2003. Pterosaur swim tracks and other ichnological evidence of behavior and ecology. – In: Buffetaut E and Mazin JM (Eds), Evolution and Paleobiology of Pterosaurs; Geological Society, London, Special Publications 217:297-313.
Lockley M, Harris JD and Mitchell L 2008. A global overview of pterosaur ichnology: tracksite distribution in space and time. Zitteliana B28: 185-198.pdf
Mickelson DL, Lockley MG, Bishop J, Kirkland J 2004. A New Pterosaur Tracksite from the Jurassic Summerville Formation, Near Ferron, Utah. Ichnos, 11:125–142, 2004
Parker L and Balsley J 1989. Coal mines as localities for studying trace fossils. In: Gillette DD and Lockley MG (Eds), Dinosaur Tracks and Traces; Cambridge (Cambridge University Press), 353–359.
Pascual Arribas C and Sanz Perez E 2000. Huellas de pterosaurios en el groupo Oncala (Soria España). Pteraichnus palaciei-saenzi, nov. ichnosp.  Estudios Geologicos, 56: 73–100.
Vullo R, Buscalioni A D, Marugán-Lobón J and Moratalla JJ 2009. First pterosaur remains from the Early Cretaceous Lagerstätte of Las Hoyas, Spain: palaeoecological significance. Geological Magazine, 146: 931-936.